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Eight Hours Must Come
by Robert G. Ingersoll
I HARDLY know enough on the subject to give an opinion as to the time when eight hours are to become a day’s work, but I am perfectly satisfied that eight hours will become a labor day.
The working people should be protected by law; if they are not, the capitalists will require just as many hours as human nature can bear. We have seen here in America street-car drivers working sixteen and seventeen hours a day. It was necessary to have a strike in order to get to fourteen, another strike to get to twelve, and nobody could blame them for keeping on striking till they get to eight hours.
For a man to get up before daylight and work till after dark, life is of no particular importance. He simply earns enough one day to prepare himself to work another. His whole life is spent in want and toil, and such a life is without value.
Of course, I cannot say that the present effort is going to succeed — all I can say is that I hope it will. I cannot see how any man who does nothing — who lives in idleness — can insist that others should work ten or twelve hours a day. Neither can I see how a man who lives on the luxuries of life can find it in his heart, or in his stomach, to say that the poor ought to be satisfied with the crusts and crumbs they get.
I believe there is to be a revolution in the relations between labor and capital. The laboring people a few generations ago were not very intellectual. There were no schoolhouses, no teachers except the church, and the church taught obedience and faith — told the poor people that although they had a hard time here, working for nothing, they would be paid in Paradise with a large interest. Now the working people are more intelligent — they are better educated — they read and write. In order to carry on the works of the present, many of them are machinists of the highest order. They must be reasoners. Every kind of mechanism insists upon logic. The working people are reasoners — their hands and heads are in partnership. They know a great deal more than the capitalists. It takes a thousand times the brain to make a locomotive that it does to run a store or a bank. Think of the intelligence in a steamship and in all the thousand machines and devices that are now working for the world. These working people read. They meet together — they discuss. They are becoming more and more independent in thought. They do not believe all they hear. They may take their hats off their heads to the priests, but they keep their brains in their heads for themselves.
The free school in this country has tended to put men on an equality, and the mechanic understands his side of the case, and is able to express his views. Under these circumstances there must be a revolution. That is to say, the relations between capital and labor must be changed, and the time must come when they who do the work — they who make the money — will insist on having some of the profits.
I do not expect this remedy to come entirely from the Government, or from Government interference. I think the Government can aid in passing good and wholesome laws — laws fixing the length of a labor day; laws preventing the employment of children; laws for the safety and security of workingmen in mines and other dangerous places. But the laboring people must rely upon themselves; on their intelligence, and especially on their political power. They are in the majority in this country. They can if they wish — if they will stand together — elect Congresses and Senates, Presidents and Judges. They have it in their power to administer the Government of the United States.
The laboring man, however, ought to remember that all who labor are their brothers, and that all women who labor are their sisters, and whenever one class of workingmen or workingwomen is oppressed all other laborers ought to stand by the oppressed class. Probably the worst paid people in the world are the workingwomen. Think of the sewing women in this city — and yet we call ourselves civilized! I would like to see all working people unite for the purpose of demanding justice, not only for men, but for women.
All my sympathies are on the side of those who toil — of those who produce the real wealth of the world — of those who carry the burdens of mankind.
Any man who wishes to force his brother to work — to toil — more than eight hours a day is not a civilized man.
My hope for the workingman has its foundation in the fact that he is growing more and more intelligent. I have also the same hope for the capitalist. The time must come when the capitalist will clearly and plainly see that his interests are identical with those of the laboring man. He will finally become intelligent enough to know that his prosperity depends on the prosperity of those who labor, When both become intelligent the matter will be settled.
Neither labor nor capital should resort to force.
— The Morning Journal, April 27, 1890.